Oxbow Park on the Sandy River

November 4, 2011 (Updated February 17, 2012)

This week, I traveled to park that is prized for its wild salmon and ancient trees and yet it’s only a half hour drive from Portland: Oxbow Park on the Sandy River.

Oxbow Park offers one of the richest outdoor experiences in the entire metro region where you can walk through stands of 800-year-old trees, watch big, brawny chinook salmon return every year and gaze at petrified trees that are seemingly frozen in place.

“It is a place where there’s life on every scale and it’s such a wonderful park to spend time,” noted Karen Mathieson, a Volunteer Naturalist and longtime park visitor.

Becky Lerner, another Volunteer Naturalist, said that Oxbow offers “an ancient forest trail where the trees are hundreds of years, long before the city of Portland was imagined. I think that’s really special.”

Dan Daly is the Oxbow Regional Park Naturalist who said that the park’s 1200-forested acres offer plenty of elbowroom plus key features with something for everyone

“Oh, a beautiful 3-mile hiking trail that will take you through an ancient forest and also along the banks of the Sandy River. We have camping year round, fishing year round and then recreational opportunities with classes in photography and skills like wildlife tracking. There are a lot of diverse activities in this park.”

Gary Slone is a park volunteer and expert who teaches Wild Mushrooming classes. He said that the  “hands on” educational opportunities really put folks in touch with the parkland.

“A park like Oxbow, so close to Portland, is a real gift; it’s a wild place and a natural place.”

Oxbow Park is a natural for hikers who would like to explore the Sandy River Gorge for surprises that are slowly revealing themselves – one winter storm at a time.

You see, a stand of really old Douglas fir and cedar trees – covered by an a mud flow that hit the Sandy River in the late 1700’s – is slowly revealing itself, according to Daly.

“The stumps and snags have been excavated by recent high water events as the Sandy River bounces between the valley walls. The river is undercutting the banks, digs out the sand and leaves these ghostly looking trees standing straight up and down – they are at least 230 years old.”

Then there are the spawning salmon – often easy to see in the river’s shallows – their spawning activity is constant against a backdrop of dazzling big leaf maples and vine maples that show off brilliant yellow and crimson-red. It can be a stunning show for the visitor.

“It’s nature’s drama at its finest,” noted Daly.

And all of it is waiting for you – anytime.

Mathieson noted with a smile, ” This park is in our backyard and part of that whole idea of being ‘wild in the city.’ People think that if you live in a city like Portland that you leave nature behind, but Oxbow shows you can actually have both. It great to have a place that’s all wild like this.”

If you like to play outdoors, consider working there a little bit too through  Metro’s Nature University; a 12-week class for folks who want to become volunteer park naturalists. The course runs from late January thru early April.

The class is perfectly suited to people who love nature and want to share their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm with others.

Editor’s Note: As the color starts to snap around the state, stay tuned to the Oregon Fall Foliage blog for regular updates from forest rangers, biologists and leaf peepers like you! Share your favorite fall trips in the blog comments or by replying to @ORFallFoliage on Twitter.

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.